Washington, DC – With dropping temperatures and rising energy costs, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on President Obama to release an additional $100 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding that cold-climate states like New York need and were promised.
Last month, Senator Gillibrand helped secure $5.1 billion for the program that helps seniors and low-income families heat their homes during the winter months. An additional $45 million was sent to New York in LIHEAP contingency funds earlier this week.
Now, Senator Gillibrand is calling on President Obama to release the remaining $100 million in LIHEAP funding that the Department of Health and Human Services secured for cold-climate states.
“No New York family should ever be left in the cold,” Senator Gillibrand said. “But with the bad economy, job losses and rising energy costs, too many New York families struggle to heat their homes and stay warm. We need to make sure we’re putting every resource available to use so that all New York families can stay warm this winter.”
At the end of last year, Senator Gillibrand helped pass the Omnibus Appropriations bill for this year, including $5.1 billion in HEAP funding – the largest amount Congress has ever allocated for the program that helps seniors and low-income families heat their homes for the winter. New York State is expected to receive more than $475 million in HEAP grants and more than $60 million for disaster relief and other emergencies.
An additional $45 million in LIHEAP Contingency funds has also been secured for New York to make sure that in these extremely difficult economic times, every New York family can access the resources they need to stay warm this winter.
To take the next step, Senator Gillibrand is joining with her Senate colleagues asking President to release every remaining resource for LIHEAP now when New York families need it most.
Senator Gillibrand has also introduced new legislation to provide low interest loans and tax credits to help cover the costs of energy, as well as providing a guidebook for families and businesses to help navigate federal grant programs and take advantage of funding available to heat and weatherize homes, schools and businesses.
The cost of heating oil in New York is the second highest in the nation at approximately $2.46 per gallon. Approximately 3 million New Yorkers rely on heating oil to heat their homes in the winter – making New York particularly vulnerable to shortages and price hikes as a result of extremely high demand.
Nearly $320 million was provided in nearly 1.3 million direct checks to New Yorkers to heat their homes in 2008 – an increase of nearly 415,000 from two years prior.
The Senators’ full letter to President Obama is below:
January 22, 2010
The President The White House Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As you know, we were among 48 Senators who wrote to you on January 7, 2010, to urge that you release Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) contingency funding. While we were pleased that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took prompt action in response to our request by releasing $490 million in contingency funds, we are concerned with the distribution of these funds. We were particularly troubled to find that the amount of funding provided to our states was significantly less, both in nominal and proportional terms, than the amount awarded to our states last year.
According to HHS’s announcement on January 20, 2010, our states would see a sharp drop in contingency funding as compared to fiscal year 2009. For example, Maine, which received more than $29 million in contingency funding in fiscal year 2009, only received $4.7 million under this release. Furthermore, although unemployment was reputedly considered when distributions were calculated, Rhode Island, a state with the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, received roughly half of what it was provided in fiscal 2009. Because the announcement from HHS was not accompanied by a methodology, the rationale behind HHS’s allocations is unclear, although it is evident that most cold-weather states saw significant cuts. As such, we would appreciate a full explanation of how allocations were determined, including the weight given to each of the factors used by HHS.
More important, we urge you to release the remaining $100 million to our colder climate states. Releasing this additional funding to our states will enable them to carry out service consistent with that which they provided last year. Faced with increased need and decreased funding, our states face the difficult choice of cutting benefits or assisting fewer low-income households. For our low-income constituents winter heating bills consume a disproportionate share of income, preventing them from meeting other essential needs. Indeed, in many of our states, constituents use home heating oil, a fuel that has seen volatile prices swings in recent years, and remains expensive today, especially for the low-income families LIHEAP is designed to serve. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) January 2010 Short-Term Energy Outlook, heating oil is the only heating fuel that is projected to cost more per household this winter than last. EIA projects that the average heating oil household in the Northeast will spend nearly $2,000 this winter to heat their homes.
We have worked on a bipartisan basis to fully-fund the LIHEAP program and we remain committed to doing so because it is vitally important to our constituents and low-income families and individuals across the nation. While the acute need in our states was not fully recognized in the latest release of LIHEAP funds, we hope it can be rectified by the release of the remaining funds at your disposal. We thank you for your consideration of our request.
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator